193. Memorandum From the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Clements) to the Chairman of the 40 Committee (Kissinger)1


  • Project MATADOR


The MATADOR recovery mission, conducted from June to August 1974 was partially successful, resulting in retrieval of a [less than 1 line not declassified] section of the original target—a Soviet G–II class ballistic missile submarine lost in March 1968. The remainder of the target fell away from the capture vehicle following a failure of the grabber mechanism. The recovery ship has since returned to Long Beach, California, and the capture vehicle has been transferred to the construction barge and delivered to Redwood City, California. Extensive analyses of the grabber failures have resulted in conclusions that new grabbers must be fabricated that incorporate a less brittle material and improved design techniques. All necessary actions are now being taken to reconfigure the capture vehicle and refurbish the recovery ship for a second mission during the next optimum weather period; i.e., July and August 1975. The MATADOR operational schedule projects a departure from the West Coast for the mission on 15 July 1975. The schedule to refurbish the ship, carry out the essential testing, and make the weather window is very tight and requires close monitoring and supervision.

[1 paragraph (11½ lines) not declassified]

Intelligence Value

On 11 November 1974 the Ad Hoc Committee of the United States Intelligence Board informed2 the Chairman of that Board that the [less than 1 line not declassified] likely to contain items of highest intelligence value [1 line not declassified] The Committee then recommended that this section be accorded priority if recovery of either hull section is attempted. The United States Intelligence Board concurred in the assessment and recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee with the excep [Page 890] tion of the member from the Department of State.3 Further the Director DIA informed the Chairman USIB that while stated intelligence requirements remain valid, the possible gain from acquisition [1 line not declassified] is not commensurate with the sharply increased risks of Soviet discovery nor with the resource expenditures incurred.

Cover and Security

The deep ocean mining cover which has protected the MATADOR Program since its inception is today credible and viable. However, the program and its phaseout must be extended for another year, which means that cover and security must be maintained for at least an additional year. While cover is a manageable problem, security is problematical—particularly, in the present Washington environment. The operational schedule of the program is extremely tight and does not provide for “deep ocean mining operations” prior to returning to the recovery site. To ameliorate this, it is planned that appropriate publicity for the program will be generated to buttress the mining cover. For instance, certain sea trials for the ship will appear to be deep ocean mining equipment testing. In addition, the projected cover scenario, built around the operational schedule of the ship, will continue to logically support the cover story and return to the North Pacific and the “test mining site”. To protect security and through it the viability of the cover, every effort will be made to maintain and reinforce the rigid security standards that have been in effect through the history of the MATADOR Program.

Soviet Sensitivity

It is generally agreed by those agencies involved in support of the previous operation that the Soviets did not suspect its true purpose although there was considerable Soviet interest. Since the recovery site is near present Soviet submarine transit lanes, surveillance during the proposed operation can again be expected. It is possible that a second visit to the same site will sharpen Soviet interest.


Fiscal year 1975 estimates to accomplish a second MATADOR mission (including recovery system refurbishment, capture vehicle reconfiguration and operational costs) are $46,753,000. Fiscal year 1976 operational costs extending through October 1975 are estimated to be $9,601,000. To date some $12 million has been obligated in order to maintain the possibility of a second mission if directed. It is prudent to expect that contingencies may require some additional funding. Approximately $250 million has been expended on this project to date.

[Page 891]

Summary and Recommendations

In view of the extensive changes required in the ship, it is essential that the present schedule of repair be accelerated to allow adequate testing prior to the deployment of the ship. This test period could be critical to the success of the mission. The inadequate period of testing before deployment could have contributed to the failure of the previous operation.

Due to the complexity of the operation and the unknowns involved in what may be in the target submarine, I find that there are mixed opinions in the community as to whether or not we should proceed with the second mission. The views of the principals as to whether or not we should proceed are summarized below:

State No
[less than 1 line not declassified] Yes
ASD (I) Yes
SecDef Yes

After thorough consideration and discussion of the above, my recommendation is that we proceed with the preparation for the second MATADOR mission. The 40 Committee will be asked for final approval of the mission just prior to actual deployment of the ship.4

W. P. Clements, Jr.
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 80M01009A: Subject Files, Box 16, MATADOR. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]; MATADOR. A handwritten note on the memorandum indicates that Clements signed it on November 14. Colby received the memorandum on November 15, according to an attached correspondence profile. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 191.
  3. See Document 192.
  4. On November 23, Colby sent a memorandum to Kissinger expressing concurrence with Clements’ memorandum. Colby wrote: “After careful review it is my opinion that the costs, cover/security and technical considerations are acceptable when considered on balance with the significant value of the potential intelligence material expected to be in the section which would be recovered. In particular, [less than 1 line not declassified] would be of highest value.” (Ibid.)